Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How to play the Fiction Delivery System


Cindy Holby wrote in her Saturday Jan 27th post here:

I write very strong characters. Characters that seem to make an impact on my fans as every letter I get mentions how much they love the characters, how much they were drawn into their lives and how much they think about them long after the story is over.


The last few weeks, I've posted some comments on Genre and how though it is enforced and defended by publishers, Genre is really invented by and perpetuated by readers.

Linnea Sinclair, in her Monday, Jan 29th post (yesterday), commented that at a panel she did, a reader expressed how she felt about writers inventiveness. Linnea discussed the creation of one of her characters.

As a fiction consumer, you can up your odds of getting what you want from a book by learning something about how publishers tell writers what they want to buy.

One of the requirements you see over and over in writers' Market Reports (where publishers describe what they're buying now) is "strong characters."

They want "strong characters" because those books (and films) make bigger profits.

But writes, publishers and readers often mean something different when they say "strong characters.'

Publishers don't mean characters the reader can identify with, nor characters that have big muscles, nor characters that impress the reader and make the reader remember their names.

Publishers mean characters whose decisions direct and energize the plot.

They want a protagonist who makes the initial move that sets the story in motion, and an antagonist who acts to prevent the protagonist from achieving the goal.

Publishers do not want characters who agonize, wring their mental hands, or worry. A strong character is a person whose "character" is strong -- who has values and sticks to them, backs them with life and limb, takes risks, stays focused on the goal, and maybe goes down swinging.

That's what publishers are currently demanding of writers. And I've never seen a Market Report where a publisher asked for "weak characters."

They don't want to buy stories where the main point of view character is someone to whom the story happens. They want the main point of view character to be someone who makes the story happen.

So what kind of book do you want to read? Do you prefer to read about someone who is a victim of circumstance and their own ineptitude or lack of forethought whose problem is ultimately solved by someone else's actions?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Anonymous6:05 PM EST

    Oh,ick, can't stand victum characters to whom crap just happens. Boo-hiss! Whiners, oh, I can't stand whiners. This is why I loved Han Solo and couldn't stand Luke Skywalker. This is why I wanted Padme to pitch Annikin into the lava pit herself. A real pregnant woman would have. Princess Leia would have. "I'll show you the dark side of the force, you stupid son of a bantha!"

    Okay, got carried away there. Sorry. Great entry, Jacqueline, as always.

  2. Anonymous8:11 PM EST

    Hmm. Very thought-provoking, both of you. Rather impactful, too, as the protagonist in my own story is indeed a fairly passive character in the beginning. On the other hand, he tends to be an oft-unwitting catalyst -- that one person in the right place at the right time whose actions seem to cause things to happen, sometimes good, sometimes bad, on a larger scope than he usually anticipates. He does initiate things a bit more as he matures, but he's probably still more like Luke than Han.

    So, from a publishing standpoint, my story's probably never going to be bought. Even if that's likely, I intend to keep on writing it. First and foremost, I'm enjoying the experience of writing. So far, it's proven to be a grand adventure in and of itself. That, and I want to know how it turns out in the end. (yes, I'm a "pantser")

    As for reading, yes, I must admit I like strong characters -- the hellbent for leather go-getters. Let's face it, they're engaging, which, I guess, is the whole point.

  3. Anonymous8:24 PM EST

    On the other hand, David, I love a character who starts out not being able to fight her way out of wet toilet paper, but matures into the one who saves the galaxy in the end. After all, in real life none of us are born 5th Degree Blackbelts with advanced degrees in chemistry and physics. We have to grow up and work for it. So, don't give up.

  4. Anonymous10:36 PM EST

    Oh, I won't. My guy had a reckless, hard-charging sort for a mentor/role model once, and I assure you some of it rubbed off on him. That, and the folks he comes into contact with keep teaching him good life lessons, whether either party realizes it or not. He'll get there. Not soon, and not painlessly, but he'll get there.